It’s a turbulent time for the charity sector. Funding cuts and an unpredictable economy have led to a fundraising environment that demands something extraordinary...
At the same time, high profile scandals have affected the public’s trust in the governance of charitable organisations. The pressure on volunteer trustees to assume responsibility for financial solvency, legal and regulatory requirements, while the paid staff handle the delivery means that many boards are operating at arm’s length with fundraising often falling between the cracks, or the responsibility of an under-resourced department or person under pressure from both sides.
Fundraising strategies are often the opposite of ideal with impossible targets on constrained resources; the misconception that we need to diversify our income at all costs; or plans that centre on one or two individuals without involving the wider team and trustees, and can lead to burn-out, poor motivation and fundraisers jumping ship.
If we are going to ensure a thriving charity sector, we need fundraising to be everyone’s responsibility. Trustees need to understand the fundraising needs of their organisation and their role in supporting entrepreneurial strategies and development. Trustees must become assets in the fundraising stakes and, like any good asset, trustees need to be nurtured and supported in relation to fundraising.
Fundraising should be high up the agenda of every trustees’ meeting. It cannot be the last item when a meeting has run out of time or steam. A key role of trustees is to lead cultural change in the prioritisation and understanding of fundraising strategy. It is not just about asking for money but rather creating a supportive culture where fundraising is an embedded strategy.
Building a successful team of trustees that will drive a charity forward shouldn’t be left to chance.
Over half of all trustees are recruited through friends and colleagues. And, according to the charity Getting on Board, only 8% of the 90,000 or so available charity roles is even advertised in the UK. This would be unacceptable in the private sector – not just because it stinks of nepotism but also because it fails to draw in the diverse group of people, from a variety of professional backgrounds, that are needed. Charities need to take recruitment seriously, using social media and free or low-cost advertisements to ensure that vacancies reach the widest possible pool of candidates.
Charities should look for diverse representation on their board – including some people who represent the beneficiaries, so they have ‘walked in the shoes’ of the people the charity is trying to help.
Train your trustees
Surprisingly, some trustees accept a role without any knowledge of what is entailed. Trustees have legal and financial responsibilities and they need to be clear about what’s expected of them and what they are signing up to. Just because a trustee has been successful in their day job, it doesn’t necessary tally that they’ll know what to do in a role on a charity’s board. Trustees should receive training so they know their responsibilities as outlined by the Charity Commission as well as recognising their role within the fundraising function. If a trustee is not willing to build their knowledge of their responsibilities, then they should be resigned – it really is that simple. Training for trustees should be ongoing to keep skills fresh and up to date.
Monitor the Board’s impact
Trustees have an important role to play and should have goals so that they are putting their skills, contacts and insight to the best use. Trustees should have three objectives or goals to achieve and be measured against.
Keep communication channels open
There needs to be open dialogue between staff and trustees. Complaining about each other is an occupational hazard unless people engage with each other. All members of the team benefit from outside inspiration.
Too often a fundraising strategy is constructed simply to meet a charity’s budget deficits. Of course, this is important, but not very motivating. Which donor ever gave money to meet a budget gap? It’s the cause that drives fundraising, not a hole in organisational finances.
Savvy boards of trustees show creative skill and imagination when structuring a fundraising strategy around four key elements: a statement of need, benchmarking for credibility, fundraising tactics, and then a focus on culture and people.
Painting a good picture plays the primary role in whether or not a fundraising campaign or project chimes with donors. What stories are you telling? Why are you telling them? How are you telling them? And why should people care? A fundraising strategy should always start from the central premise of what the money is being raised for and why it’s urgent.
If we are going to prevent the collapse of any more of the UK’s charities, especially at a time when their efforts are more in demand than ever, we need to take the recruitment, training and management of trustees seriously. Getting the best Board and keeping them motivated can make all the difference.
By Michelle Wright, founder and CEO of Cause4